Cleveland-based startup Vital Chain, is focusing on the creation of digital death certificates and birth records using the distributed ledger technology.
Blockchain offers a lot of potential to vital records. It’s immutability, traceability and its ability for data storage has endeared it to many industries. It is now seen as a technology to store all kinds of records which now includes death certificates? As it is, Medici Ventures, the wholly-owned blockchain accelerator of Overstock.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: OSTK) has entered an agreement with Vital Chain in return for a minority stake.
Why Digitise Birth/Death Certificates?
The first identity document an individual gets when they are born is a birth certificate and the last document they get after they die is a death certificate. These documents are essential to the identity of a man therefore, it’s trail must follow a trustless and auditable path. Although the US has made a move towards digitizing death certificates, the current process for creating an initial record of birth or death is inefficient and fragmented.
The government is the custodian of the identities of its citizens. While identity is important to the government. Ensuring that IDs in various agencies are properly validated, stored and issued without increasing opportunities for errors, fraud and security breach is of topmost importance. But by using the blockchain, governmental agencies can verify birth registration information using the current existing standards of live birth certification. This registration can be secured on the blockchain with the parent controlling the data until the child is of legal age. Access to the cryptographically stored information will be granted by holders consent.
The Vital Chain’s Vision for Identity Storage
To create an innovative solution to this fragmented process of registering a death, Vital Chain is using the blockchain. The solution utilizes blockchain technology as storage for innovative birth and death certificates thereby reducing the reliance on the paper and digital insurance of these vital records. Vital chain is teaming with Medici Ventures, who will acquire an equity stake in Vital Chain to undertake some product development work for the company. By integrating with various government agencies and health systems, Vital Chain will help to save time, increase efficiency, and reduce costs associated with the vital records ecosystem.
Medici Ventures, a wholly-owned blockchain accelerator of Overstock.com is focused on accelerating the adoption of blockchain technology and changing the world. They are already working with companies who are integrating blockchain technologies to industries such as governance, identity, supply chain, capital markets, governance, money and banking, and voting.
According to Jonathan Johnson, CEO of Overstock and president of Medici Ventures:
“Medici Ventures’ is committed to accelerating the adoption of blockchain technology, and Vital Chain is a meaningful addition to our identity pillar…”
Vital Chain is already making progress towards adoption with its partnership with the MetroHealth System. MetroHealth, a public health system and hospital group based in Cleveland, Ohio will work closely with Vital Chain to develop the product and spread its offer to hospitals across the country. On the other hand, Medici Ventures will acquire an equity stake in Vital Chain via product development work it will undertake for the company.
In the words of Shane Bigelow, the CEO of Vital Chain:
“Medici Ventures brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in helping companies like us to build meaningful technology in the identity realm. To have Medici, as the leader in the space, take an ownership stake in our company and involve us in their keiretsu is a great honour…”
Ten years ago, I’d never have thought about writing about digital legacy planning. But when I think about my digital assets (photos, documents, music, blogs, business records, etc.) and my digital accounts (emails, bank accounts, subscriptions, etc.), I know I’ll want to provide for someone to handle them (1) […]
Almost half (45 per cent) of Australians die without a will. And from the time someone dies, it usually takes about three years for loved ones to sort out their legal affairs.
- When someone dies, their tax debts don’t disappear, leaving loved ones having to sort out the mess through a tricky legal system
- Australia’s tax ombudsman, the Inspector-General of Taxation, has conducted a review into deceased estates and suggests having digital death certificates to make the process easier
- The issue of death and taxes is a source of common complaints from taxpayers to the ombudsman and the ATO, including claims that tax officers lack empathy
The long and difficult process of sorting out deceased estates could be made easier by allowing digital “death certificates” — or automatic notification using their Medicare number — which is legally enforceable and shared between all layers of government.
This is one of 10 recommendations made by Australia’s tax ombudsman, the Inspector-General of Taxation, in a new report delving into the complicated area of death and taxes.
The area is so legally fraught that each year it results in about 430 complaints by taxpayers to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Inspector-General of Taxation.
“When you die, someone has to pick up the pieces,” Ms Payne said.
“It’s not just a tax matter but about ensuring affairs are left in an orderly state.”
There was no formal requirement to notify the ATO of a death.
But in order to get the deceased person’s tax affairs sorted, the person acting on their behalf — either their tax agent or the executor of their will where there is one — has to jump through various legal hurdles before being able to access records.
“Different government agencies have different systems and they do not necessarily align,” Ms Payne said.
“A ‘tell us once’ approach would also reduce the stress placed on representatives who are likely the relatives or friends of the deceased.”
Currently, multiple notifications of a death are required across federal, state and local government and various other business and community organisations.
160,000 Australians die each year, most with outstanding taxes
ABS data shows almost 160,000 Australians die each year — with about 82 per cent of them aged 65 or over at their date of death and about 55 per cent aged over 80.
State and territory laws determine who can represent the deceased after their death and a “grant of probate”, or letters of administration, are required before the ATO is able to freely engage with the legal representative.
The report notes that different institutions with which the deceased held assets may also impose their own requirements before assets are released.
The legal representative has to lodge any prior-year tax returns that are outstanding and deal with complex estate issues.
While there are no death taxes in Australia, there is still an obligation to pay tax on the earnings and investments that had been held by the deceased.
This may include taxes on superannuation payouts (generally the ATO will tax super payouts to nominated beneficiaries at 15 per cent) and capital gains taxes owed on any investments such as shares or property.
Before that can even happen, a tax return is required if a dead person had a taxable income higher than the tax-free threshold of $18,200 in the year that they died.
Since most taxpayers have reached retirement age at the date of their death, they may not have been required to engage with the tax system for some years before they pass away.
How Medicare numbers could help agencies data match
Ms Payne suggests that one way to make the whole process easier would be to have some sort of digital notification of a death that is shared across all government agencies — federal, state, and locally based.
Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency is currently working with NSW agencies and the ATO on a project to develop a digital death certificate by 2025.
But even then, information sharing across government would be limited due to restrictions surrounding the use of some unique identifiers, such as Tax File Numbers.
Ms Payne suggests there may instead be a benefit in exploring the use of Medicare numbers as a possible identifier.
However, it could take years for such a system to develop, and the report noted to date its development had been held up due to the high cost.
The report suggests that in the interim funeral directors “may be well placed to assist grieving friends and relatives to reduce their stress in dealing with the ATO by obtaining information from them which fills ATO data and information gaps”.
ATO could make it easier to get franking credits
Ms Payne says another common source of complaint by taxpayers about deceased estates relates to how to access a franking credit owed when their loved one passes.
“If you’re alive and don’t have to lodge a tax return — you get your franking credit refunded,” she said.
“But as soon as you die, that form no longer applies to you. There’s no easy way in which people acting on behalf of the deceased can apply.
“You can apply for a tax file number for a trust, and then lodge a tax return for a trust. It goes without saying that as soon as you step into the world of taxation of trusts, the level of complexity goes through the roof.”
The report recommends simplifying tax-filing requirements for a deceased taxpayer, especially simple estates and where filing is necessary to process “low-value” franking credits and other tax refunds.
The report also recommends that the ATO engage with tax practitioners, solicitors and barristers to help develop better guidance for taxpayers dealing with deceased estates.
“Deceased estate issues do not only involve taxation matters but also matters of inheritance, property law, family law, trust law, as well as various state and territory succession laws.”
The report said the ATO does not presently have a dedicated team to deal with deceased estate matters, unlike other government agencies, such as Services Australia.
It suggests “expertise should be developed within the ATO to advise holistically on deceased estate taxation issues”.
The ATO has agreed in full, or part, with all but one of the 10 recommendations.
It disagreed on a part of a recommendation to give binding advice to taxpayers — a move that would possibly help minimise tax disputes — noting that the law was already binding but that “to the extent advice would be about the application of the commissioner’s general power of administration, the ATO does not have the ability to give binding advi
Future-proof your family legacy
Family histories have long been passed down from generation to generation, but exactly how accurate is the information you have been told about your ancestors?
Word of mouth can easily turn into Chinese whispers, while older images, videos and written correspondence can be lost, damaged or taken out of context.
Technology has largely solved the problem of protecting physical memorabilia, with the ability to digitize memories, bringing a plethora of benefits.
Digitizing the memories of your grandparents (or parents) is a great way to keep track of your family’s legacy. However you could be left to piece together important milestones and events from the information at hand if they have passed away.
If you are lucky enough to have grandparents still alive, you should speak to them about bringing all of their memories into the 21st century.
Not only will it act as a great bonding experience to bring your family legacy together, but it will help add detail to your future-proofed digital legacy.
Here are the top reasons why you should capture grandparents’ memories while they are still alive:
1. Get the correct information first-hand
Trying to understand the handwriting of grandparents can be hard at the best of times, so imagine trying to decipher letters and notes once they are gone.
Rather than trying to fill in the blanks, you can ask them to take you through an image to provide a more detailed description and background.
For an added element to the original context of the photo, you could also ask them how they feel about a certain event or person now years have passed since the moment it was captured.
You could film their reactions and make an additional video to go with their memories.
2. Get a deep understanding of your family history
It might be too late to get first-hand accounts of all your ancestors digitized, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start doing it from now.
Talking to your grandparents would be the best way to find out more about your family tree, while capturing the most meaningful memories and milestones of their own life.
It would be almost impossible to avoid learning something new about your family when digitizing your grandparents’ memory box.
3. Learn more about history in general
Digitizing the memories of your grandparents is going to give you insight into your own family, but it could also help you learn more about the history of the world.
With all their years on this planet, your grandparents have lived through interesting times and would have information on key moments that shaped the world in which we live today.
Talking to your grandfather about his military records could show you more about WWII or you could get a better understanding of second-wave feminism from your grandmother.
Your family’s memories could also be shared to add context to wider historical collections.
4. Surprise your grandparents once everything is digitized
Once the memories of your grandparents have been digitized, you could package some photos or a video as a surprise.
Use basic editing software and put together a short video, email them a slideshow.
A Memories page takes things one step further by acting as a vault, visual timeline and digital memory box for your now-digitized family history so it can be enjoyed by your children’s children.
5. Grandparents are going to love passing on information
Who doesn’t love sharing stories from their past?
You can only imagine the delight a grandparent would feel when sitting down sifting through old memories with their children and grandchildren.
Not only will they feel good reliving sentimental moments with their family, but they will find peace knowing their story will live on for generations to come.
6. Get hands-on experience with discontinued forms of media
Kids who think the iPhone 5 is vintage tech might have some fun exploring the discontinued media formats such as super 8mm cameras, 8-track tapes or even wire recordings.
Maybe you could take your kids on a journey using a slide projector or fire up the old VHS recorder – don’t pretend like the nostalgia won’t be too hard resist.
7. Share it with your family
Once you digitize the memories, you have them at hand to easily share with your own family or even your grandparents’ friends.
If you store your memories in the cloud, you can give access to family members – including tech savvy grandparents – so they can view or add content whenever they please.
Some programs allow you to add tags to locate pictures using keywords – you could find your grandparents’ wedding pictures in seconds at the next family dinner.
8. Inspire others to contribute
When your family see the knowledge and satisfaction you have experienced from digitizing memories, they could be inspired to do the same for themsleves.
If your entire extended family digitized their memories, you could combine all that information to develop an extensive digital family tree.
You could also inspire your friends to do the same for their parents or grandparents.
9. Enjoy knowing family memories are safeguarded
Digitizing photos, letters and video tapes with sentimental footage is a great way to safeguard your precious memories.
While you can still keep your physical copies, neither you or your grandparents will have to worry about floods, fires damage or deterioration ruining sentimental items.
Not only this, but you can all rest easy knowing meaningful moments from your family history are now safeguarded for generations to come.
Just remember to make a couple of backups for added security.
When we think about what we leave behind when we die, the majority of us take an approach that gives little regard to the vast amount of digital assets we hold.
We write wills, take out life insurance policies, plan our funerals and arrange to leave some money aside for those we care about. All of these steps make things easier for your family at an emotionally difficult time.
However, most of us neglect our digital legacy. Few of us have measures in place to take care of our digital assets, something that has the potential to cause great problems for our friends, family and colleagues.
It used to be that people’s estates could be settled in a standardised way: a search through the deceased’s filing cabinet would yield most of the information necessary to put their financial affairs in order. Their letters would still arrive through the door, allowing their family to take care of their communications after death and, where appropriate, advise their contacts of their passing.
Alas, nowadays much of our financial life takes place online – with traditional paper bank statements fading into oblivion, it can be difficult for an executor to know what accounts you hold and where to find them.
What’s more, unless you inform someone of your passwords, your email and social media accounts will become inaccessible and any information on them will be lost. Inaccessible social media accounts mean that the deceased’s family are unable to close the account or inform friends of their relative’s passing.
If we do not plan for our death we can cause our family a logistical nightmare which, on top of the emotional stress of bereavement, may be overwhelming.
That said, there are important steps you can take to help your family wind up your digital affairs smoothly.
Keep an inventory with a close friend or relative that includes the location of any digital devices you own. This should also contain a list of all your social, personal, financial and business account details, including usernames, passwords and security question answers.
Finally, some of your online accounts have features in place for the account holder’s death. Google, for instance, gives you the option to set up an “Inactive Account Manager”, a trusted contact with access to certain aspects of the account, such as Gmail or Google Drive. Features such as these give a trusted person a level of control over your digital legacy and can lessen your loved ones’ distress at a crucial time.
If you want to plan for your legacy, speak to us about Individual Financial Advice